Tech Talk Live Notes: Takeaways From Duke, and Looking Ahead to Miami

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Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente accepted personal responsibility for Virginia Tech’s performances this season. (Ivan Morozov)

On his takeaways from the Duke game… 

Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get our team ready to play better. We have a chance to be better than we showed. I think Duke is very good, but we are going through some growing pains right now to say the least, and it’s my job to get us playing better. I’m not disappointed in our players or our coaches. We need better from everybody involved, starting with myself. I’ve got to do a better job of getting us to execute at a higher level on a more consistent basis.

Our kids came back on Sunday and had a great workout. We did a lot more than we usually do on Sundays, but we did really well and really got after each other in a positive way for a little bit longer practice. I’m sure people that care about this program are upset and down and so are we, but we can’t stay down. We have to respond to the challenge in front of us and continue to look forward. That’s what we’re going to do.

On the play after the first quarter… 

I was really disappointed with the way we responded after a negative event. We had a fumble and on the next play, they hit us with the screen and go for a touchdown. We were outgaining them, I’m paraphrasing, something like 80 yards to eight. From then on out, we really couldn’t get the ball back in our court, which is disappointing because we have been a team that’s been able to respond and overcome some adversity along the way.

It’s something we hit on in our meetings on Sunday. They do have a good squad, and this has been coming for a couple years, we’ve seen it. We went into their house last year as underdogs and coming off of a really difficult situation and we really played well. They kind of did that to us this time.

On not taking advantage of good field position early in the game… 

Everything was so difficult for us and, quite honestly, it has been all year. Nothing has been easy out there. We did have a couple short fields out there that we certainly would have liked to have more than three points in the first quarter.

On his message to the team after the game…

I just told them that we aren’t playing up to our capability and that’s my responsibility. When times are tough and you face criticism, how you respond to that gives credence to the criticism that you’re receiving. You can either prove it right or prove it wrong. Through one day, our guys have done a great job of responding.

On the atmosphere on Friday night… 

We love playing in Lane Stadium in front of our fans. We have great fans who are known across the nation as great supporters of our football squad and our players, most importantly. It was the first time that many of our guys had played in a night-time environment in Lane Stadium.

On how to improve the team’s handling of adversity… 

First of all, you have to put them through some adversity. You can’t just talk about it, you have to go through it. We try to simulate that through practice and the offseason to continue to force them to battle through difficult situations together. We have to handle sudden change a little better as well. The bottom line is that there are too many occasions where we have to do a better job as coaches to put them in situations that they feel comfortable in executing.

There’s just too much poor execution in all three phases of the game. We can make all kinds of excuses about that, but that’s on us to put them in better situations. You always try to balance just doing the same thing over and over again and implementing new stuff and what can you execute. As coaches, we have to do a better job of teaching and forcing them to execute at a higher level more consistently along with being emotionally tough enough to handle the ups and downs. The game isn’t going to be perfect. We can’t play a perfect one, nobody ever has. There’s going to be adversity and we have to be able to buckle down and play the next play.

On how he approaches talking to the team after a loss like that… 

I think it’s important, first of all, not to rush to judgement. Everybody seems to know exactly what the issues are as soon as the games over. Those aren’t always true. You have to take emotion out of it and sit down and diagnose what exactly it is. That’s true in a win or a loss. Too many times in life, if the outcome is what they want, people don’t focus on the process and how it was handled. That’s why we review everything as an entire staff in front of each other. We go through every call and every play in all three phases of the game and talk about what we’re teaching so everybody on our staff can hear and we can talk about it.

It’s kind of like, in the military I think they call them after-action reviews. You check your feelings aside and everybody talks about it honestly. I talk about my decisions throughout the game just so those are out on the table. Then, we talk about the kids after that. We try and figure out what we need to focus on, what the message needs to be and what we need to focus on moving forward.

On the late first-half score that made it 21-3 Duke… 

You go from starting to think about using your timeouts there to get the ball back with some time to then thinking about using timeouts to give your defense a bit of a break there because they’re putting together a pretty decent drive. They ran the trick play throwback to the tailback, and we had a blitz called. We just didn’t get it executed the way that we’d like to and obviously that was a big moment in the game.

On finding the team’s identity… 

That’s part of the process. I think we’re moving that way, quite honestly. As rough as it’s been, I feel better about the progress that we are going to make, and we are making. Although, it might not be at the pace that I would like for it to be. We’ve got to find what we can really hang our hat on and what kind of football team we want to be. We’re going to do that. It’s not something that’s pie in the sky that we hope happens. We have to go make that happen in all three phases of the game and that’s what we’re on track to do.

On the reliance on the run against Duke… 

We have to find a way to run the ball. At times, we were efficient running the ball. Deshawn had that big run on second and long. We ran the ball on the inside better than we have all year. That doesn’t mean that we’re where we need to be, but I can see visual improvement of that. That’s a small positive, but it’s going to have to be a concerted effort. We’re not going to be able to drop back and throw it 55 times. If we have to, we will, but that can’t be how we’re going into the game. That’s not going to get it done. We’re not built that way at this moment to go do that. In order to alleviate some of that, we’ll have to be efficient running the football.

On the loss of Tyrell Smith… 

I’m sad for Tyrell. He’s a captain of ours and I think this is his fifth year. He’s a great human being. He’s already graduated, he might have graduated two years ago. Everybody thinks the world of Tyrell Smith. He was in the game at the end there and suffered a knee injury and he’ll be out for the rest of the year. He’ll have surgery in the next day or two to get him back upright and moving around.

On who has stepped up as a leader for the team… 

We’ve got a bunch of guys who have blossomed into very good leaders. Jarrod Hewitt is quickly becoming someone that not only carries a big stick on the defensive side of the ball, but across the team. I think he’s going to be a coach someday, maybe a strength coach. He’s kind of embraced that role. He’s a captain this year and that means a lot to him. Dax is certainly one. Rayshard Ashby is another guy who is developing some fantastic leadership skills.

We have some guys on the offensive line. As young and inexperienced as they are, they’re developing into great leaders. Certainly, our tight end room has some leadership skills. They’re constantly playing hard and doing well in school and that sort of stuff. That gives us an opportunity for us to show them as beacons of what we want people to be. We have a leadership council that has done a great job. They met on their own yesterday, which I think was a fantastic sign of ownership and what’s going on. I feel great about where we’re headed in terms of the development and maturation of leadership.

On having such a small group of seniors… 

I certainly think it helps to have experience. It helps to be a good player and it helps to be a hard worker. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be a senior. It can help. The thing you do have is investment. That’s part of the program is sweat equity. When you’ve spent your own time, energy and sweat to invest in a place, it makes it much more difficult to give up on it.

We have some guys that have gone through over the last year or two that are building a large amount of sweat equity in this football team. That’s giving them more ownership on a daily basis, more and more drive to help the new players come in and live up to those expectations. That’s what you need. We’ve had a little bit of a void of that. The volume of sweat equity on our team has not been very high, and now it’s getting to that through this year and into next year where we’ll have a lot more guys that are invested in what’s going on.

On Deshawn McClease… 

I’ve been proud of Deshawn because Keshawn has gotten some attention here and Deshawn has been supportive of that. Obviously, Deshawn wants to play, and we’re going to play him. Him continuing to take coaching and listen and then ultimately see him be a more productive player is a great example of an older guy who is supportive of a younger player, but also hopefully pushing himself to be the best he’s been since he’s been here.

On playing quarterback… 

Well, let me be clear, we need a lot better quarterback play than I could have provided and we’re getting that. It’s a delicate balance playing that position. First of all, it’s physically difficult. You don’t hit during the week, but you have to be physical to play quarterback. You have to be brave and stay in the pocket while keeping your focus down field while other large individuals are trying to hit you.

You have to be judicious with the football; the ball is in your hands on every single play. It’s a delicate balance between trying to make plays and give guys a chance to go make plays and also knowing when to kind of call it a day and throw it away. Trying to find that balance while being competitive is sometimes difficult.

I think the biggest thing is that the challenge is for everybody around that position to step up and elevate their play to give whoever is back there a chance to have success. When people out there, the other ten guys start to play better, then, all of the sudden, you start to think that the quarterback is playing pretty well. It’s a function of the quarterback playing well and the people around him starting to step up. We have to start to do a great job of knowing what we can ask our guys to do on a consistent basis. Also, we have to have the other ten guys elevate their level of play, so our quarterback is more efficient.

On the tight end group… 

First of all, we have to find matchups that are more beneficial to us. The tight end position usually gets catches when the running game is efficient. We were halfway efficient in the first half or so, but when the score gets away from you a little, all of that stuff goes away. It becomes more of a dominant wide receiver game. That’s just kind of how it works. It’s just a function of time and score and situation. All of that being said, we need to make sure we do make a concerted effort to get those guys touches because they can and will help us win.

On Damon Hazelton… 

He was fine. We didn’t play him a tremendous amount. He needs practice. If you’re going to go out and play against press corners in the ACC that are good players, you need work against your own players. Damon needs more of that work this week and in the weeks to come. It’s not just a conditioning thing, he’s in pretty good shape. It’s just a repetition thing and getting used to working again because he has been out for so long.

On running the jet sweep… 

The very first one we ran, they had us pretty out-leveraged. We had the opportunity to come back with other things that should work. It’s going to be a part of what we’re doing. It’s just been entirely too efficient for us through the years to not continue doing that. It just wasn’t a huge part of what we planned to do last week.

On Caleb Steward… 

It was good to get him in there and get him some carries. We saw him pour the ball up in there a little bit and he held onto the football. Hopefully, we can continue to get him and there and have him improve. He’s shown at times that he can be a productive player for us.

On Miami… 

It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us. We have to go on the road to a team that was off last week. They’ve had two weeks to get healthy and get ready to play us. In the same breath, I’m excited. I’m excited about our team and the opportunity in front of us. Is it going to be difficult? 100%, you bet. It’s going to be really hard. They’re very talented. They had one of the top defenses in the country last year and are back at it again with the defensive linemen.

They have two linebackers that I swear have been playing there for ten years, and they’re great players. Then, they’re big and athletic in the back end. When you look at them on offense, it starts on offense with Deejay Dallas. He’s a really good back that will get in the wildcat and he can run the ball that way. Jeff Thomas is an electric fast wide receiver that can go make plays.

On Jarren Williams… 

He’s another great example of a young player playing with some expertise and some experience around him. He’s doing a good job of distributing the ball. I’m not saying he doesn’t make plays, he does, but he’s got a lot of talent around him. He can throw a hitch and it can turn into a long touchdown. He can handoff on the inside zone and it can turn into a 20-yard gain. He has been very efficient and has taken care of the football. Talk about getting baptized by fire, during the Florida game, they were coming at him from everywhere. He showed great poise and stood in there and has put up some great numbers so far.

On Deejay Dallas… 

He’s a really good football player. A couple of years ago, they had another guy in there who got hurt and they put in Deejay. It was almost worse than when they had their starter in there. He’s just a powerful, explosive runner who is great on the inside, but has the speed to take it the distance.

On Manny Diaz… 

I know him by reputation only. I know some people that have had Manny as an assistant or have worked with Manny along the way. They all rave about him as a really good person and a great worker. Obviously, he has cut his chops as a defensive coordinator and has moved into a head coaching role.

On special teams performance… 

There are a couple of things. One, our kickoff return unit has a chance to be something really special. We’ve scared some people early in the year into kicking it all over the place. Now, they’re kicking it away from the returner, they’re doing all sorts of things. I think that’s because we’ve proved to be good enough to scare some people.

Oscar continues to be a weapon. He pinned them inside the twenty the other night. We’ll have our hands full in terms of punting against Miami. They’re both a block and a return team, which is what we have traditionally been. I think our punt return unit has been really close to a couple of blocks this year. We’ve really affected a couple of kicks. Not in the Duke game, but over the last few weeks, if the punter hadn’t kicked it all the way across the field, it would have been a block. We’re getting good pressure there. I hope that Hezzy [Hezekiah Grimsley] starts to feel more comfortable back there. We still have plays to be made with that return unit.

On the message he wants to send to the team… 

We have control over our situation, and we have this fantastic opportunity in front of us to go on the road and go continue to improve. We took a step towards that Sunday night and we have to take a step towards that every single day that we have this opportunity.

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19 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I thought Fuente struck the right tone in this article —took responsibility didn’t just blame individual players. Doesn’t change anything but I thought this was a better approach. When your down a true leader points the finger at himself and tries to build up those around him.

  2. Same old double talk. Expect similar play calling and similar results against Miami. Refer to the definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

  3. “…I’m not disappointed in…our coaches.” REALLY!?! Who was calling the plays? Who developed the offensive and defensive game plans? Who made the half-time adjustments? Who trained the players during spring and summer camps? The answer to all the questions is the coaches!! I give CJF all the credit for taking the blame for Friday’s disaster (and being loyalty to his assistants), but much of the blame has to rest with his staff (and he needs to recognize it). And much (if not most of those assistants need to go…sooner rather than later).

  4. This whole situation just really stinks.
    Never as Bad (or Good) as it Seems – I hope its not worse than it seems…
    I like Fu still – but goodness we have to play better football. Not perfect – just better.
    Go Hokies!

  5. Fuente on Tyrell Smith “…I think this is his fifth year….” Sort of a red flag for me that he doesn’t know. I mean, if you don’t know just don’t say that. People will work for you if they think you care about them and know them. Maybe I making something out of nothing but that caught my eye.

    1. Smirnoff, couldn’t agree with you more. I was shocked to read “I think this is his fifth year.” I would think that someone making approx. $4million/year should know how long one of his players has been in the program.

    2. C’mon man. Now we’re just piling on. That’s a stretch.

      I bet that if Coach Dabo starts a football team sentence with “I think”, Tiger fans aren’t raising up red flags.

  6. When your very best skill players (by a mile) are wide receivers, I believe you call an offense that includes getting the ball in their hands as often as possible. Or we could NOT do that in the name of “balance”… we need to playcall for the players we have, not for the players we wish we had. JMHO.

    1. That must be a pretty short mile. The receiving corps has also been underwhelming so far. Not consistently running good, crisp patterns, more drops than acceptable, and the edge blocking has been generally awful.

  7. I also don’t agree that involving the TE goes out the window when the run game goes away. And given we only threw 22 or so actual times (and ran 40+), it didn’t become a WR-dominated game

  8. It isn’t good enough to say “Everything was so difficult for us and, quite honestly, it has been all year” Games are about choices. The coaching staff chose to run three straight times into the heart of the defense on 1st and goal. That is a choice in which you know you are not choosing a high percentage play for this offense. They have other choices they could make that have had a higher chance of success.

    1. Hindsight is 20/20. Easy to say now. These criticism are never voiced when something works. But you have the advantage of knowing it didn’t work before you criticize it. I know the retort: “But I knew it wouldn’t work BEFORE we did it.” No you didn’t. You’re just as susceptible as the rest of us to hindsight bias. If we had thrown it three times from inside the 10 and not scored, the criticism would be that we’re soft and we should’ve just run it up in there for a TD.

      1. Put King in. Helps run and pass. Biggest coaching error of the game. Score a td there. Ridiculous. If you follow your line of argument, you could never criticize or PRAISE any decision. It’s all in hindsight.

      2. No, I was complaining as it happened. After the Willis INT/not INT it was like the coaching staff wasn’t going to let him try again so they just ran the ball. Terrible coaching.

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